Like a wave, the fungal disease that wipes out frogs—chytridiomycosis—is advancing through the Central American highlands at a rate of about 30 kilometers per year. After the disappearance of Costa Rica's golden frogs in the 1980s, Karen Lips, associate professor of biology at the University of Maryland, quickly established a monitoring program at untouched sites in neighboring Panama.
Of the 63 species that she identified during surveys of Panama's Omar Torrijos National Park located in El Copé from 1998 to 2004, 25 species disappeared from the site in the subsequent epidemic. As of 2008, none of these species had reappeared there.
Were there additional species in the park not previously known to scientists? To find out, the authors used a genetic technique called DNA barcoding to quickly estimate that another 11 unnamed or "candidate" species were also present. In DNA barcoding, short genetic sequences that uniquely identify known species are generated and stored in public databases. By comparing DNA profiles from unknown organisms to the databases, researchers can identify biological specimens quickly, and construct genetic lineages. Combining the field data with the reconstructed genetic lineages, the authors discovered that five of these unnamed species were also wiped out.
"It's sadly ironic that we are discovering new species nearly as fast as we are losing them," said Andrew Crawford, former postdoctoral fellow at STRI and member of the Círculo Herpetológico de Panamá, now at the University of the Andes in Colombia. "Our DNA barcode data reveal new species even at this relatively well-studied site, yet the field sampling shows that many of these species new to science are already gone here."
An epidemic that wipes out a whole group of organisms is like the fire that burned the famous library of Alexandria. It destroys a huge amount of accumulated information about how life has coped with change in the past. Species surveys are like counting the number of different titles in the library, whereas a genetic survey is like counting the number of different words.
"When you lose the words, you lose the potential to make new books," said Lips, who directs the University of Maryland graduate program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology (CONS). "It's like the extinction of the dinosaurs. The areas where the disease has passed through are like graveyards; there's a void to be filled and we don't know what will happen as a result."
"This is the first time that we've used genetic barcodes—DNA sequences unique to each living organism—to characterize an entire amphibian community," said Eldredge Bermingham, STRI director and co-author. "STRI has also done barcoding on this scale for tropical trees on in our forest dynamics-monitoring plot in Panama. The before-and-after approach we took with the frogs tells us exactly what was lost to this deadly disease—33 percent of their evolutionary history."
The U.S. National Science Foundation and the Bay and Paul Foundation funded the field work for this study, which is published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Collection permits were provided by Panama's Environmental Authority, ANAM.
STRI, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website: www.stri.org.
The University of Maryland Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology (CONS) Graduate Program trains leaders in conservation biology and development programs and provides them with the multidisciplinary, conceptual and experiential learning experience necessary to address the biodiversity crisis that now faces the planet. Website: http://cons.umd.edu.
Ref: Andrew J. Crawford, Karen R. Lips and Eldredge Bermingham. 2010. Epidemic disease decimates amphibian abundance, species diversity and evolutionary history in the highlands of central Panama. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. online Early Edition, week of July 19.
Lee Tune | EurekAlert!
Desert ants have an amazing odor memory
25.09.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
Hygiene at your fingertips with the new CleanHand Network
25.09.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Organische Elektronik, Elektronenstrahl- und Plasmatechnik FEP
The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.
This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.
Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...
Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.
"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...
A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.
Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...
Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.
An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to...
21.09.2018 | Event News
03.09.2018 | Event News
27.08.2018 | Event News
24.09.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
24.09.2018 | Earth Sciences
24.09.2018 | Health and Medicine